Your Complete Beginner's Guide To Running + A Full Beginner Running Plan
If it seems like everyone you follow on social media has suddenly become a runner—you're probably right. There has been a rise in running over the last couple years—and for good reason. Outdoor runs are a logical way to stay healthy, active, and soak up some much-needed vitamin D. Not to mention, among other benefits, running may help reduce stress, support positive mood, cardiovascular health, and even longevity.
If you've been itching to join the running community, it may seem simple enough (you just put one foot in front of the other, right?). But if you've never pounded the proverbial pavement before, you may have a few lingering questions.
Good news: mbg chatted with running experts to get a full rundown on everything you need to know before lacing up for the first time. Consider this your complete beginner's guide to running.
What is proper running form?
Running may feel like a perfectly natural form of movement—after all, you've been running since you were a little kid. "For form, I always tell my new runners that they were born to run so they should trust their natural form and stay relaxed," says running coach Emily Fayette, CPT. "Once you get a few runs behind you, or if you feel discomfort while running, then you can start to slowly change your form to enhance your performance and comfort."
To home in on that form, posture and foot placement are key, says Danny Mackey, the head coach of Brooks Beasts pro running team. "Form is nuanced to the individual," he says, "but I would advise to make sure when you start, you're looking 10 to 20 meters ahead (not down or up) to maintain posture, and try to use your entire foot when you land. The sensation should feel as if you're rolling through the foot."
Mackey also suggests taking a short video of yourself running, if you can. This will give you a visual representation, in addition to a physical one. "As you continue to run and get stronger and more flexible from it, continue to videotape yourself and see how you naturally improve."
And don't forget about your breathing form, as well. "You will want to find your own rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, using one key running muscle—your diaphragm," says Fayette. "I recommend starting at a pace that feels extremely comfortable, so you can focus on your breathing." She suggests a "conversational pace" which simply means you're going slow enough that you could hold a convo with a running buddy.
Fayette also advises against listening to podcasts or music during every run when you're first starting out. "By going noiseless, you're able to become a bit more aware of your breathing rate and stride."
What type of gear do you need?
When it comes to running, the right pair of shoes can make all the difference. "You want to take time to find the right fit, as the shoe can help prevent injuries and improve your performance," says Fayette. "I always encourage athletes to stop by their local running store for a running and gait analysis."
Mackey agrees that going to a specialty run shop is your best bet since the staff is generally well versed in the mechanics of running and can help you find an optimal pair of shoes. That said, "knowing the current climate we're living in with lots of retailers closed across the country, a second-best option would be to check out a virtual version, like Brooks' online shoe finder," he says, "to help guide you in the direction of your perfect shoe." Oh, and don't forget to grab a pair of comfortable, sweat-wicking socks (check out our list of top-notch running socks.)
As for clothing, Mackey suggests investing in a few good running outfits to help you feel comfortable, supported, and eager to head outdoors for a run. "Ensure the materials are light, and allow for a good range of motion when you're moving so you won't feel restricted," he says. The type of clothing will vary depending on the season, but a few good staples include sweat-wicking tights (check out our favorite running leggings here), lightweight shorts (some options here), supportive sports bras, breathable tanks, and a solid, water-resistant jacket.
If you happen to have some extra funds to spend, Mackey adds that a GPS watch can also be beneficial. There are a number of brands to choose from: Garmin Forerunner 45 , Fitbit Charge 4, and the Apple Watch Series 5 are great options to consider.
Also, if you love to listen to music while you work out (which can also help keep you motivated), consider adding Bose SoundSport Free wireless headphones to your gear collection. This pair is water-resistant, lightweight, and offers a comfortable fit—which is crucial for run-friendly headphones.
What should you eat before a run?
Fueling for a run is similar to how you'd fuel for any other kind of cardio workout. Just keep in mind that if your stomach gets irritated easily, you may want to add a little buffer time between eating and running. (For example, if you drink coffee before a workout, consider waiting 30 minutes.)
"Deciding what to eat and drink beforehand will be different for every runner and will alter based on the duration and difficulty of the planned run," says Fayette. "I recommend you play around with your fuel until you find what works best for you."
She also recommends refueling right after your workout to help with recovery. "My go-to post-run meal is oatmeal with chocolate protein powder and berries," says Fayette. "The oatmeal provides complex carbs to helps me replenish depleted energy stores, and the protein is necessary for building and repairing my muscles."
Mackey says it's also important to opt for healthy, nutrient-rich foods, to keep your body feeling great before and after a run.
And, equally important, remember to stay hydrated. In addition to water, be sure to replenish with electrolytes—especially after a long or challenging run. Nuun tablets are a great option to try: you simply drop them in a glass or bottle of water, and they dissolve into a tasty, electrolyte-packed drink.
How to avoid common injuries.
One of the common reasons beginner runners quit before they have a chance to fall in love with the sport is an unfortunate injury. "It can be super exciting to get into running, but overdoing it or pushing through new pains can cause major setbacks," says Fayette.
But that doesn't have to be the case. While there's no guaranteed way to fully prevent risk of injury, Mackey recommends being patient with yourself, especially during the first month of training. "Don't feel the need to progress quickly," he says. "Your heart and lungs tend to get fit quicker than the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, so embrace taking it a bit easy and including recovery days."
Fayette is a fan of setting small goals to focus on. "I recommend starting with a run/walk combination for a shorter duration of time, then build on the running time and duration of the workout as you go."
Most importantly, says Fayette: "Listen to your body."
(Read more about preventing common running injuries here.)
Stay safe while running.
Staying safe when you hit the road or trail is, of course, crucial—and it extends beyond injury prevention.
If you're running at night or early in the morning, in low-light or dark conditions, make sure you're visible to vehicles. One of the best ways to do so is by wearing reflective clothing or accessories.
As for weather, "You should avoid running in the rain during thunderstorms, heavy winds, and freezing conditions," says RRCA-certified running coach Raj Hathiramani, an instructor with Aaptiv and Mile High Run Club. "Storms can result in flying debris and lightning that make it unsafe to run outside."
In less severe conditions, like mild rain, "Pay more attention to the surfaces you run on, especially any painted lines on asphalt, muddy trails, ice, and flooding," Hathiramani advises. "Consider shortening your stride to be more in control of your form."
For winter workouts, specifically, check out our complete guide to cold weather running.
Follow this beginner running plan.
Ready to hit the road (or trail)? Mackey has put together a seven-day running plan that's perfect for beginners.
He generally likes to have runners focus on time versus miles when it comes to daily goals (think 20 minutes of running versus 2 miles), but this plan also includes a weekly timed mile, to help check on your progress. Whether you're brand-new to running or just coming back from a hiatus, this beginner running plan can help you find your stride:
Here's how the training plan shakes out in a bit more detail:
- Monday: Today you will complete a 20-minute running workout. Run for 1 minute, then walk for 1 minute. Continue alternating running and walking until the 20 minutes is complete. You should be running at a conversational pace, meaning you could still talk while running.
- Tuesday: Incorporate additional stretching today, along with a core routine—both will help you become a stronger runner over time. The second part of your workout for today involves one timed mile. This shouldn't be an all-out effort, but it should feel harder than Monday. Be sure to take note of your time, and see how you improve in the following weeks.
- Wednesday: This is an off day, or a cross-training day if you wish. If you like to bike or hike, that could be your exercise.
- Thursday: Repeat the same 20-minute running workout as Monday.
- Friday: Today you will complete a 20-minute running workout. For the first 10 minutes, run for 1 minute, then walk for 1 minute. Continue until the 10 minutes is complete. Then, you will complete 10 minutes of strides—this involves running quickly for 100 meters (about the length of a football field, for reference). After you do 1 stride, rest for 1 minute. Repeat and keep doing this until the 10 minutes is complete.
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Today you will complete a 25-minute running workout. Run for 2 minutes, then walk for 1 minute. Continue alternating running and walking until the 25 minutes is complete.
This plan is designed to get you started, but you can reduce the number of walking breaks as you start to feel more comfortable. Eventually, you can also increase your time and distance in gradual increments as well.
How do you stay motivated to keep running?
The reality is, you're probably not going to feel like a superstar runner overnight. As with trying anything new, running for beginners may be challenging at times—but the ultimate benefits are worth sticking it out in the long run.
Just remember that running is also a mental workout, says Mackey. "If you want to stop a planned workout early, ask yourself if it is your mind that wants to quit or your body. If it is your body, then stop the workout early, but if it is your mind—try to push through," he says.
"I use the saying 'strong, stronger, strongest' a lot while coaching myself and others," says Fayette. "We start strong by setting the initial goal. We become stronger by putting in the work mentally and physically. We become our strongest when we accomplish the set goal."
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Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen. Kristine is a New York University graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology, and also a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has spent her editorial career focused on health and well-being, and formerly worked for Women’s Health and Health. Her byline has also appeared in Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, HGTV, and more. In her current role she oversees, edits, and writes for the health, food, and movement sections of mindbodygreen.